The FDA is calling on veterinarians to ease off prescribing opioids for animals – because pet owners are stealing them for their own use.
Health officials face an overwhelmingly multifaceted ordeal to bring the nation’s opioid epidemic under control.
Doctors are being told to limit prescriptions, pharmacies are creating new restrictions, and lawsuits are being leveled against drug manufacturers.
But it seems FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is petrified of leaving any stones unturned – so he is asking vets, yet again, to join in the efforts.
Vets often resort to prescribing human opioids to pets because only one is approved for animals. The FDA issued a plea to veterinarians to think about the wider impact of their opioid prescriptions
‘We recognise that opioids and other pain medications have a legitimate and important role in treating pain in animals – just as they do for people,’ Dr Gottlieb said in a report on Wednesday.
‘But just like the opioid medications used in humans, these drugs have potentially serious risks, not just for the animal patients, but also because of their potential to lead to addiction, abuse and overdose in humans who may divert them for their own use.’
Currently, there is just one opioid approved for use in animals, Recuvyra, which is a form of fentanyl – the drug that has been the cause of thousands of deaths in the US, and was even used to kill an inmate via lethal injection in Nebraska last week.
But given the lack of approved pills for animals, vets are being forced to prescribe human opioid medications.
And at no point in the prescription process does the vet consult the owner’s medical history to know if they have addiction issues.
Dr Gottlieb implores vets to ‘help ensure the critical balance between making sure animals can be humanely treated for their pain, while also addressing the realities of the epidemic of misuse, abuse and overdose when these drugs are diverted and used illegally by humans’.
His words reignited a debate that has been playing out just outside the spotlight of the main issues of the epidemic.
Last year there was outrage among veterinarians as states mulled making it mandatory for vets to check an owner’s medical history before prescribing opioids to animals.
In fact, Colorado and Maine both passed such rules.
Kevin Lazarcheff, president of the California Veterinary Medical Association, vocalized the most common frustration in the industry, when he said to the Washington Post: ‘I’m a veterinarian, not a physician. I shouldn’t have access to a human’s medical history.’
With his latest statement, Dr Gottlieb insists he is not proposing any clear-cut rules for vets – rather, he is asking them to play ball.
‘As medical professionals, veterinarians have an opportunity to partner with the FDA and others to take on this public health crisis,’ Dr Gottlieb said.
‘We encourage them to continue to work with their clients and both local and national organizations, such as their state board of veterinary medicine and AVMA, to join in the fight against this tragic epidemic.’